The Workplace Word: Is Your Company Prepared for the Return to Office?

As we each packed up our belongings and prepared to work from home at the start of the pandemic, I remember thinking: we’ll be back in the office in a week. Then I thought: a month, tops. Then: by the end of the summer, surely. Well, fast forward two years, and here we are, finally preparing for the official return to the office. But the places we left in March 2020 aren’t the same ones we’ll be returning to in 2022; the pandemic has changed the world of work forever, and employees’ needs and expectations are very different than they were in the days before masks and social distancing became a part of our everyday lives.

Most companies – Padilla included – are implementing a hybrid work schedule, in which employees will work from the office three days a week and remotely the other two. And while some may see the office as the quieter option compared to homes filled with spouses, kids and pets, most will see their days in the office centered around one purpose: connection and collaboration. We’ve all shown that we can be focused and productive at home, but there’s a certain level of comradery that simply can’t be achieve through even the best of Zoom calls.

So as we get ready to change out of our leggings, pack our lunches and make the drive to the office, here are a few questions employers should be asking themselves to ensure a successful return-to-office experience.

Is the office ready to welcome employees?

If your office has been a ghost town for the past two years, make sure it’s ready for everyone’s return. Beyond simply tidying up and stocking up on supplies, think about the experience employees will have their first week back. Consider welcome back signage (just not this kind), desk drops and fun activities. And while this will be the first time in the office for those who were hired during the pandemic, even tenured employees may need help re-learning where everything is, who sits where, etc. Provide resources and support that will help all employees adjust to their “new” surroundings.

How will you encourage continued flexibility?

One of the silver linings of working from home has been the tremendous level of flexibility. From choosing your own start and end times, to being able to run errands or get small chores done during the day, it’s something many employees won’t want to give up by returning to the office. Employers can make the transition much smoother by accepting and encouraging the same level of flexibility for employees even during their days in the office.

Is your physical space set up appropriately?

According to a 2021 Microsoft study, 66% of business decision makers are considering redesigning physical spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. The space not only needs to work for employees, but it should make them want to be there. And again, the main selling point for returning to the office is in-person collaboration – so make sure these spaces in particular are updated and make sense for this new world of work. For example, Google has added more outdoor meeting spaces as well as “campfire” conference rooms, which allow people to sit in a semi-circle with screens for remote attendees.

Have you invested in the right technology?

Of course, another vital aspect of the physical office space is the technology. Make sure you’re investing in the right tools that will enhance the office experience and bridge the gap between in-person and remote workers. In addition to tools that increase collaboration, more companies are using apps to manage various aspects of working in the office, including entering and checking into the building, finding and reserving meeting spaces, and more.

Are you keeping wellness top of mind?

Wellness has taken on new meaning since the start of the pandemic. Beyond encouraging employees to get their steps in or eat well, it now includes making sure the company is doing everything it can to keep employees healthy and safe while in the office. From better ventilation systems and enhanced cleaning practices, to increasing the number of outdoor spaces, organizations are more focused than ever on ensuring their offices are as wellness-focused as possible.

While it’s critical to consider the questions above, employers should also keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to returning to the office. It’s important to understand what your specific employees want and need, and to tailor your hybrid work experience accordingly. We’re all navigating this new world together, and there will certainly be bumps in the road. But if you take the time to listen and respond accordingly, the road is sure to be much smoother.

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